Strong earthquake rocks New Zealand's South Island

Map of New Zealand

A 7.0-magnitude earthquake has struck off New Zealand's South Island, the US Geological Survey has said.

The epicentre was 55km (35 miles) north-west of Christchurch, at a depth of 12 km (7.5 miles), it added.

Police reported widespread minor damage and local power cuts. Christchurch is New Zealand's second largest city with a population of about 386,000, but no casualties have yet been reported.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said there was a risk of a local tsunami.

New Zealand lies at the southern end of the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, and above an area of the Earth's crust where the Pacific Plate converges with the Indo-Australian Plate.

The country experiences more than 14,000 earthquakes a year, of which only around 20 have a magnitude in excess of 5.0.

The last fatal earthquake was in 1968, when a 7.1-magnitude tremor killed three people on the South Island's western coast.

Shops 'demolished'

The earthquake struck at 0435 on Saturday local time (1635 GMT on Friday), the USGS said, when most people would have been asleep.

Start Quote

I thought a large truck had just driven through the front window”

End Quote Susan Birkbeck Christchurch resident

Radio New Zealand reported that the quake was felt as a long rolling motion lasting up to 40 seconds, and that the area was continuing to feel aftershocks. The USGS said one aftershock had a magnitude of 5.7.

The local newspaper, The Press, said it was felt widely across the South Island, including Christchurch and the nearby port city of Timaru.

Police said damage and power outages had been reported as far afield as Dunedin, 360km (223miles) to the south-west, it added.

"There is a row of shops completely demolished right in front of me," Colleen Simpson told The Press, adding that many people in Christchurch were out in the street in their pyjamas looking scared and worried.

Susan Birkbeck, who lives in the centre of the city, said: "It was absolutely shocking, we're all terrified and scared of what's going to happen next."

"I was asleep when suddenly the house started shaking and there was this smashing sound, I thought a large truck had just driven through the front window."

"I'm now sitting on my bed surrounded by broken glass and I've no idea what to do. The walls and roof are just hanging, it's terrifying," she added.

Barry in Ashburton, 86km (53 miles) west of Christchurch, told the BBC it was the strongest earthquake that he had ever experienced.

"Very strong aftershocks are still going here," he said. "In fact the moving has not really stopped since it started nearly an hour ago."

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